The remote viewers had confirmed it. The word he had dreaded hearing
—the term that had come up so often in the chatter from Tunisia to Turkey and beyond—had surfaced in a secure subbasement at Fort Meade, uttered by a man who had no inkling of its meaning or its importance. The transcript of the viewing session would arrive on his desk within the hour, but Monroe already a good idea of what it would say. It had been predicted almost a century ago by an introverted, nativist author of ghoulish short fiction who lived and died in the claustrophobic embrace of Providence, Rhode Island.
What is love? There is nothing in the world, neither man nor Devil nor any thing, that I hold as suspect as love … Therefore, unless you have those weapons that subdue it, the soul plunges through love into an immense abyss.
—Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Providence, Rhode Island 598 Angell Street
1915 CE/1333 A.H.
The newspapers were full of the story of the American occupation of Haiti, which began on July 28 that year. The date was noted as possibly significant; its proximity to the pagan cult of Lammas ordinarily celebrated on the eve of August 1 was probably coincidental, but its relevance would be confirmed nineteen years later in 1934 when the US occupation officially ended on August 1.
But all Howard Phillips Lovecraft could think of at the moment was of the noble US Marines occupying a tropical island infested with the horrible cult of voodoo. Who knew what ancient gods and demons would be disturbed by the presence of so many white, Christian soldiers? Who could tell what the ramifications would be as unspeakable beings were roused from their underworld crypts?
And how would their co-religionists react, those gathering in secret, arcane rituals in the swamps outside New Orleans, in our very own United States? He had heard of the orgiastic rites taking place among the devotees of the African gods, accompanied by the hideous pounding of the huge drums as naked men and women writhed uncontrollably, their souls in the grip of fiendish creatures from some other dimension.
Not that he believed in any of that. But he knew that they did, and that is what mattered.
As he lay down the newspaper, he could hear her screaming outside the door. His mother. His poor mother. She was seeing them again. The creatures. It was particularly bad this evening. Rats in the walls. Lurkers in the dark. She was surrounded by beings visible only to her. She was either losing her mind, or she was seeing what others could not. Or both.
He knew the feeling.
He tried to cover his ears to block out her rantings. He would be twenty- five years old this year, and had spent all of that time in one house or another on Angell Street with his mother. His father had died, insane, when he was quite young. His beloved maternal grandfather, the noted businessman Whipple Van Buren Phillips, a Freemason, had died in 1904. Young Lovecraft’s only succor had been his dreams. Locked away in his room, surrounded by books (many of which he salvaged from his grandfather’s library), he would let his mind wander all over space and time, collecting ideas and images and sensations that would ordinarily be out of reach for the ordinary man living in an old house in the eldritch city of Providence, Rhode Island.
But how he loved Rhode Island! The smallest state in the Union, it was a manageable place even though it was populated by ghosts, demons, the spirits of dead Indians, and the lingering gaunts of ancient peoples who had once lived in these forbidding New England forests and raised stone altars to the noxious creatures they thought were gods. Rhode Island was the whole world, as far as he was concerned. Everything he needed was within a short walk of his home. The university. The libraries.
“Get away! Get away from me!” his mother screamed in the hall.
Lovecraft sighed, and got up from his desk and opened the door. “Mother …”
She stopped where she was as if pole-axed, her arms ceasing their windmilling as she batted away unseen terrors. Instead, she pivoted on her axis and pointed a raised finger at her son.
“They’re coming. They’re coming for you!”
And then she tore off down the hall cackling a manic laughter, a screech designed to fool the demons, to convince them she could defend herself against their vile blandishments. A laughter fueled by terror. Lovecraft stood there, a deep sadness erupting from his heart like cold lava from a trembling volcano. His father, dead. His grandfather, dead. His favorite uncle, Frank Chase Clark, had died only a few months ago, in April. His cousin, the young Phillips Gamwell, has only a year left to live. And now his mother, hopelessly insane. He was not yet twenty-five, and his whole family—aside from some aunts—was disappearing into the void. For a man who valued heredity and ancestors as much as he did—who gloried in bloodlines and breeding, classical literature and the genteel arts of bygone ages—he was being robbed of his own. There would soon be nothing left of the Lovecraft line.
His mother had come from a noble and wealthy family with ancestors who came on the Mayflower, but had married beneath her station: a traveling salesman of jewelry and baubles. A man who went bonkers in a Chicago hotel room during a business trip and who died in a hospital in Providence shortly thereafter. His mother had never come to terms with her egregiously bad fortune. Her father had stepped in to do what he could to lift his daughter and her strangely nervous son up from the fringes of poverty into something more respectable and comfortable, but then he too had passed away. Lovecraft missed him as much or more than his own father, whom he had never really known.
It was twilight in Providence on a summer’s day. Shadows lengthened. Stars were almost visible, shining with ancient light from unsettling distances and harboring who-knew-what kind of beings on unseen planets. And as the shadows grew long on Angell Street, his mother became more agitated. She saw threatening forms in every corner of the house, materializing as if from the very walls themselves. On the street, it was even worse. They would come jumping out at her from the sides of buildings, doorways, overhangs: hideous creatures with long, claw-like fingers and wide unblinking eyes. He had to be sure to watch her and not allow her to wander outside where her illness would become apparent to their neighbors and where she might possibly harm herself or others in the process. It meant she could never be left alone, not even for a moment. Lovecraft was shackled to his mother and to their five-room apartment like a dog on a leash.
It was an exhausting way to live.
At least Lovecraft was not particularly interested in going anywhere. Sometimes, when he knew his mother was asleep, he would go for long walks in the evening. Providence was a different city at night, and he could almost believe that the creatures his mother saw in her derangement actually existed in some dimension perpendicular—and not parallel—to our own. As if there was a road through reality, traversed by all manner of alien traffic only occasionally observable by the sensitive, the artistic … the insane.
Lovecraft knew that his dreams were the stuff of his vision. His dreams had fueled his perception of what others called reality. But he had also suffered his own nervous breakdown a few years earlier. It marked the beginning of his withdrawal from the world, but it also gave him the space and time to write. From scientific articles and essays on politics to short stories about beasts and alchemists, Lovecraft had embarked on his own peculiar arc of story-telling and cultural observation. But in the background was the constant percussion of mental imbalance and isolation. He had wanted to be an astronomer … but his fragile emotional state had ruined the chance. He would have to travel to the stars in some other way.
He was a firm believer in scientific principles, and had written learned articles on astronomy at a very young age. But at the same time he had to acknowledge the power of the irrational in his understanding of horror. Science had not protected his family from sickness, madness and other evils. Science was not able to cure his father, grandfather, uncle, or mother. Of course, neither was the church. His belief in science, he knew, was practically a religious one. It was a preference for science over superstition, for facts over suppositions. He wanted science to be perfect, to answer all of humanity’s questions, to be the panacea it promised it would be.
But in the meantime … night gaunts, lurkers in the dark, rats in the walls.
And dear old Mom.
He got to work on another story. In his mind, he could see the lineaments of a world beneath the flat surface of our own. It was a world peopled by
strange beings, or at least they appeared strange to the untrained observer. In order to maintain a form visible to us in three dimensions they had to assume weird, asymmetrical shapes that represented their best option for physical manifestation. But the result was often hideous.
The creatures he imagined were vaguely anthropomorphic but they also possessed appendages that were more cetacean, with fusiform bodies and vestigial limbs projecting from malformed crania. Mammalian mysticeti, amphibians with teeth that suckled their young, they were monstrous but their monstrosities enabled them to survive below the sea and in the far reaches of interstellar space …
Or so he imagined. Or thought he imagined. It was hard to tell the difference between imagination and hallucination, between hallucination and reality. Especially when you lived with madness every day of your life and were forced to treat it as real.
But in his dreams he heard voices. He saw cyclopean architecture. He heard screams. Sometimes those screams were identifiable as coming from his mother’s bedroom as she struggled with horrors not dissimilar to his own. But at other times the screams seemed to come from his own throat, modulated by a vocal apparatus not traceable to forms resulting from human evolution.
At the age of five, he had dreamed the name Abdul Alhazred. It was an impossible name, at least in terms of Arabic orthography and grammar. But he had heard it nonetheless. A name that haunted him his entire life. It rang out in his dreams as clear as the cry of the muezzin in Damascus at dawn. Perhaps it was not Arabic. Perhaps it was a name from another race, another tongue, filtered through an Arab speaker’s sensibility. He did not know.
The other word—that word—also came to him in a dream. He heard it like the lugubrious moan of a condemned prisoner. It represented all that was evil, all that was heinous in the human condition as far as that condition was contingent upon the good will of the Great Old Ones …
What? What did that mean?
Lovecraft looked up. Had he fallen asleep again? He listened for sounds of his mother but she was back in her room, possibly asleep already, exhausted by her flight from her waking nightmares. He looked down at the pages he had been writing. The sentence had stopped in the middle,
somewhere. Abandoned its train of antique phrasing. Great Old Ones. He had been day-dreaming. Lost contact with the world around him for a moment. That always happened when he focused on the word. That word. And there it was, at the bottom of the page, standing alone and defiant as if written by another’s hand:
THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY
As the man said, for every complex problem there’s a simple solution, and it’s wrong.
—Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
Monroe spent a long time staring at the glass of Laphroiag, seduced by its power to calm the soul and dull the senses. He sighed, and resisted its pull. Instead, he reached into a locked filing cabinet next to his desk and within easy reach of his leather chair, and withdrew a large manila envelope whose contents were held in place by a thick rubber band. Not exactly high-tech, but it was a file he had been compiling since those early days of the Johnson administration when he realized that everything was not what it seemed. He dared not commit its contents to any electronic medium, for he could not afford even the slightest chance of the file making its way onto some server somewhere, hacked and cracked by an adolescent malcontent or a sophisticated Chinese cyber-warrior. No. This file—most of it handwritten, some of it typed on a manual typewriter, and all of it compiled by hand—had to remain off-grid.
There were architectural drawings, astronomical charts, glossaries of Kurmanji, Sanskrit, Sumerian and Zhangzhung. Chronologies of the lives of select artists, writers, musicians. Tables of Kabbalistic correspondences. Weird diagrams cribbed from occult literature. Organization charts of terror cells, secret societies, and obscure corporations. Maps of Asian landscapes. Correspondence with scientists and schizophrenics. Newspaper clippings. Articles from medical journals. Alchemical drawings.
Taken individually, they were the pages of a tortured mind and a broken soul. Pieced together, all that dissociated knowledge, and read as a whole they told the story of the beginning, and of the end.
Of everything. “Chatter confirmed.”
He glanced at his watch. The chatter had confirmed everything he had been tracking since the 1960s. All that work, all those sleepless nights. All those obscure reference works from libraries and archives around the world, wherever his official missions had taken him. The suspicions had turned to possibilities, the possibilities to probabilities, and now his life’s clandestine work had transformed suspicion to reality. He thought of all those conspiracy theorists out there, those who believed that the world was controlled by a secret government of malicious and greedy men. He almost laughed out loud. Would that it were so! Would that there existed a government of men who controlled … everything. The reality—now confirmed—was far, far worse. Faced with the alternative, the conspiracy theorists would have embraced an Illuminati or a New World Order and considered themselves blessed.
There was a discrete knock at the door. His agent had arrived with the transcript of the RV session. He put his large manila file—the Lovecraft Codex—back in the locked cabinet, and then opened the door to admit one of the few men in the world who had an idea of what was about to happen.
“It’s true, then?” “Sir. I’m afraid it is.”
“Then we haven’t much time.” “No, sir.”
“Angell. Where is he now?”